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Reflections on Ten Years of Work with the Church in China

10 Years 10 Lessons


1. Learn new vocabulary 

  • The biggest hurdle for American and Chinese to overcome is vocabulary that represents the conflict of two cultures and two mindsets.
  • The Chinese church and American evangelicals are separated by a culture clash—not necessarily a difference of theological beliefs.
  • Chinese are “face” and authority oriented, quite conservative, quoters of official policy, rather defensive and somewhat poor in image building and public relations.
  • American evangelicals consider precious certain terms such as “evangelism” and “missions” that, in the Chinese mind, trigger implications of Western Christianity undermining the Chinese church.  New vocabulary such as “witness,” “ministry,” and “cooperation” is needed.

2. Learn patience 

  •  Do not expect fast results.
  • Invest time in relationships rather than just projects.

3. Learn the larger setting

  • A view of the larger picture, with patience, is needed.
  • China, as both hierarchical and decentralized, presents a paradox.  While there is always a higher-level decision required, everybody’s opinion and comment will be taken into consideration.  This is especially true in the Chinese church and can throw a monkey wrench into the works.
  • Recognize that those you work with do not control everything.  There are many levels of decision-making.
  • A useful mantra is “two steps forward and one step back.”

4. Do not over-plan or over-manage

  • Allow for major differences in planning and implementation styles.
  • Be flexible
  • Do not plan a schedule or logistics too extensively or tightly.

5. Do not dominate or make the other party feel that you are dominating

  • The most sensitive issue for the Chinese church is being viewed as a foreign religion. Any foreign agency working with the Chinese church needs to be well-trained to handle this issue so as to give a correct impression to Chinese pastors.
  • Do not work unilaterally.  Religious freedom as we understand it in the U.S. does not exist in China.  There are many things which cannot be done there.
  • Be involved with real and felt needs.
  • The investment of money, though welcomed, may not necessarily open Chinese church doors.  Rather, the influence and power of money may be resented.
  • Be sure trust precedes any dealings involving money.  The Chinese church is usually willing to provide accounting but does not want controlling oversight.  Corruption in the organized Chinese church is uncommon.

6. Do not get stuck with publicity-intensive, money-raising or time-sensitive projects

  • Raise funds prior to entering into cooperative efforts.
  • Advise donors of what they can expect prior to giving.

7. Do “enabling” of the Chinese Church

  • Understand their difficulties and defensive mentality.
  • Strengthen and sustain the ministry effectiveness of elderly pastors.
  • Encourage the young.
  • Pray for and respond wisely to needs.
  • Advocate long-term thinking.  Development of human resources is always strategic.

8. Do “enhancement” of the image of Christianity in Chinese society

  • Avoid approaches or methods that might trigger negative repercussions.
  • Be supportive of the “salt and light” approach of the Chinese church.
  • Be in the open. Stay on the lamp stand.

9. Do “promotion for unity”

  • Do no harm to either the official church or the unofficial church.
  • If we cannot help to promote unity, at least let us not promote schism.  Promoting division is not biblical.

10. Maintain an unconditional commitment and submission to God’s timing and plan

Danny Yu

Dr. Danny Yu is president of Christian Leadership Exchange. View Full Bio